- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000


Defense Secretary William S. Cohen leaves today for China hoping to jump-start the Pentagon's stalled military diplomacy program, which so far has done little to coax the People's Liberation Army into being more open or friendly.

Defense officials said privately that China several times turned down offers to conduct joint military exercises with U.S. forces to practice humanitarian relief or search and rescue operations.

The PLA also has balked at conducting simple indoor military exercises, known as the "Sand Table" seminar program, the officials said.

"The Chinese said, 'We don't conduct exercises with anyone,' " said one official.

However, a senior defense official who briefed reporters on the secretary's Asia trip said cooperating in military, humanitarian and disaster relief and the tabletop exercises are areas the Pentagon hopes will be resumed.

"The purpose of the visit to China is threefold: to promote our military-to-military relationship with China, as part of our overall bilateral relationship; to conduct high-level policy dialogue on a broad range of global, regional and bilateral issues; and thirdly, to improve our lines of communication between our two leaderships," the official said.

The only event scheduled is the signing of a memorandum on the environment. However, officials familiar with the agreement said it lacks substance and is nothing more than a call for further discussions on the issue.

Mr. Cohen will meet officials in Beijing tomorrow through Thursday and travel to Shanghai on Friday. He is scheduled to spend the weekend in Sydney, Australia, with defense officials there before returning to Washington July 17.

The four-day visit to Beijing and Shanghai will be the first by the defense secretary since military-to-military contacts were cut off after the errant U.S. bombing raid on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, during the Balkan air war last year.

Despite numerous U.S. apologies, including several by President Clinton, China continues to view the bombing as a deliberate attack designed to embroil China in the European conflict.

China's announcement of the visit was muted. An official Foreign Ministry statement said Mr. Cohen is visiting as a guest of Defense Minister Chi Haotian to "hold talks and exchange views … on issues of mutual interest."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told reporters in Beijing the visit by Mr. Cohen is important for relations between the two countries.

However, in a preview of what Mr. Cohen can expect to hear from senior officials, Mr. Sun criticized the United States for the embassy bombing and U.S. plans for a national missile defense.

"We are still demanding that the U.S. side face the severity of this bombing incident and carry out a full investigation into this matter leading to a satisfactory explanation," Mr. Sun said. The bombing by U.S. B-2 bombers killed three Chinese officials and injured 20 others. It was "a gross violation of Chinese sovereignty, greatly hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and undermined China-U.S. relations," Mr. Sun said.

Mr. Cohen told reporters in Florida last week that he will "try to get back on track our military-to-military relations with the Chinese to explore ways in which we can cooperate on a military basis by discussing potential peacekeeping activities, talking about making the so-called rules of the road as far as our forces are concerned in humanitarian de-mining, other types of peaceful activities that we can cooperate on."

"We have an opportunity to explore these during the course of our meetings," he said.

As for Taiwan, Mr. Cohen said he would remind the Chinese that reconciliation with the island should be "through peaceful means, not through either military action or military intimidation."

On national missile defense, Mr. Cohen said he will tell the Chinese that no final decision on deployment has been made. But should the decision be made to deploy the missile defense, "it's not designed to pose a threat to Chinese strategic systems," but is aimed at countering missile proliferation by North Korea and Iran.

"I believe it's important for the United States to have a capability to defend the American people against such a limited type of attack or the threat of attack, or an unauthorized or accidental type of launch," he said. "That will be the message that I will deliver to the Chinese government."

The Chinese rejected requests from Pentagon officials to visit the Central Military Commission headquarters near the Forbidden City in Beijing, and also would not allow Mr. Cohen to see the PLA's General Staff offices, also in Beijing.

In January 1998, Mr. Cohen was permitted to see a military air-defense site, but it was an older facility. Some Pentagon officials said afterward this was part of a strategic deception program to fool the Pentagon into viewing Chinese military capabilities as outdated and non-threatening

Since last year, China has stepped up attacks on the United States as a dangerous "hegemon" bent on splitting or destabilizing it. The official newspaper the People's Daily said in June 1999 that the United States and Nazi Germany "are exactly the same" in their "ambition to seek hegemony." The newspaper said the use of U.S. missiles against civilians in Yugoslavia was the same as Hitler herding Jews into concentration camp and killing them with cyanide gas.

Chinese animosity toward the United States has prompted many in Congress to question the Pentagon's military diplomacy. "I am concerned that China's intention toward the United States may be more threatening than is widely accepted," said Rep. Floyd D. Spence, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "If so, current administration policy may be reinforcing China's behavior and setting the United States and China on a collision course."

Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon China specialist who has written two books on Chinese military and strategic writings, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month that China has rejected Pentagon efforts to encourage more openness on military matters.

"The Chinese are very proud of their level of secrecy," he said, noting that estimates of China's annual military spending range widely from the official Beijing figure of $10 billion to American China scholars' estimates of between $50 billion and $200 billion.

Mr. Cohen will hold meetings with Gen. Chi, the defense minister, and also is expected to meet Zhang Wannian, the head of the powerful Central Military Commission. He also is scheduled to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and will give a speech before a group of military officials at China's National Defense University.

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